A student’s guide to
Whom To Ask
Most colleges and universities ask for one to three letters of recommendation. Some may
specify which subject area teachers are preferred, some may allow you to send letters from any
adult who knows you well; be sure to examine each application carefully to see what each school
requires, then make a plan. Please ask the same two or three teachers to write the
recommendation for all of your schools.
Count on asking two teachers who know you well. The Common Application Teacher Evaluation
form asks about intellectual promise, enthusiasm, and initiative, as well as such specifics as
"written expression of ideas," "effective class discussion" and "disciplined work habits." Think
about which teachers might respond most positively and specifically to these questions and who
might write the best letter. If possible, ask two teachers who know you in different ways and can
address different strengths and dimensions to your personality. Teachers do not have to be
from AP or Honors classes and they don’t have to be teachers from classes in which you got an
A; sometimes the teacher who knows you worked very hard and overcame obstacles to earn a B
or a C can say the most wonderful things about you. If you know what you'll study in college,
you can ask teachers in related subjects but this is not required.
Your guidance counselor will be happy to write a letter and complete counselor or school report
forms on your behalf. Be sure to have completed the surveys in Naviance before you give these
forms to your counselor.
Some schools allow supplemental references from coaches, employers, club advisors,
supervisors of your volunteer service, etc. Others schools discourage them. If a school states
that a reference is "optional," consider it a requirement and send one. Recommendations from
prominent citizens or celebrities who do not know you will not help your case; in fact,
admissions officials often view these letters negatively.
When To Ask
Teachers at MHS get an overwhelming number of requests for letters of recommendation and
many teachers have their own systems in place for managing requests. Toward the end of
junior year, approach the teachers you are considering requesting a letter from and ask them
about their system. Some teachers prefer requests in writing, some may have an informational
form to fill out, some may want to know far in advance, etc. Understanding what a teacher
wants and then doing it will definitely benefit you.
How To Ask
In the fall of senior year (or earlier), formally ask the teacher to write you a letter of
recommendation. Do not do this during a fire drill. Do not do this one minute before class starts,
while the teacher is busy at lunch duty or any time when a lot of other students are present.
Find a quiet time when the teacher can talk one-on-one and consider your request thoughtfully.
Don't walk in with forms in hand, assuming he or she will say yes. Ask first.
Remember, teachers may limit the number of letters they will write, so if you're among the last
to ask, you could be shut out.
Once You've Asked
Make a list of dates by which recommendations must be submitted. Are you applying early
decision or early action? The forms might be due as early as November. A month before the first
deadline is a good time to give the teachers the forms and envelopes they will need. Remember,
teachers are busy, with many demands on their time, and with papers continuously flowing into
and out of their lives. Anything you can do to help organize these papers makes a good
impression and helps ensure your letters are submitted on time. It’s not pushy to remind the
teacher of a deadline a week before it arrives; if the date has slipped his or her mind, you'll both
be glad of the reminder.
If the teacher has a system they would like you to follow, please follow it. If the teacher does
not, here are some guidelines:
Give the teacher a folder with all the forms and envelopes organized inside, envelopes
addressed and stamped. If you are using the common application, include only one copy of
the teacher recommendation form and, on a separate piece of paper, list of all of the schools
that should receive it. Include a schedule chronologically listing due dates for
recommendations. Be sure to complete your portion of any forms that teachers must submit.
There is usually a space for your name, signature and a check-box to waive your right to
read the recommendation, failing to complete these will hold up the process. Some teachers
ask that seniors prepare a resume outlining their achievements, interests, and plans. Even if
your teacher doesn't, you might consider providing such information.
GOOD LUCK! As always, see your counselor for further information!!!